Cpl. Rodolfo P. “Rudy” Hernandez, 83, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman on April 12, 1952.
He chose to speak in Tracy because of family ties. A nephew, Dennis Hernandez Sr., coordinated the men’s conference for his church and invited his Uncle Rudy to be the guest of honor.
Hernandez enjoyed speaking at the conference and visiting with family and stated he would like to return to Tracy next year for the annual conference.
During the Korean War, Hernandez, a member of Company G, 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy on May 31, 1951, near the small village of Wongtong-ni.
At 2 a.m., with rain coming down and the night pitch black, the 20-year-old corporal and another soldier were in a foxhole hearing the enemy coming closer and closer. The night erupted with enemy artillery, mortar and machine gun fire.
Overwhelmingly outnumbered, they returned fire, but the enemy kept advancing and both were almost immediately wounded.
Though told to retreat, Hernandez and his foxhole mate held their position and kept firing. Hernandez was hit by shrapnel and part of his brain was blown away. Then a shell ruptured in the chamber of his rifle, and his M1 jammed.
Hernandez later said, “I thought no doctor could ever repair me, so I might as well go out and do as much damage as I could.”
He climbed out of his foxhole armed with grenades and his jammed rifle with the bayonet still intact.
The wounded 20-year-old soldier charged the numerically superior North Koreans with his brain exposed and partially blown off.
He used his grenades and his bayonet and also engaged in hand-to-hand combat, killing six enemy soldiers before collapsing unconscious from grenade, bayonet and bullet wounds.
His heroic actions momentarily halted the enemy advance and allowed his unit to regroup, counterattack and retake the lost ground.
Hernandez was found at daybreak, lying among the bodies of the North Korean soldiers he had killed. Thought to be dead, he was put into a body bag, but someone saw his fingers move.
The medics rushed to work on him and he was sent to a South Korean hospital. Drifting in and out of consciousness, he was unable to comprehend where he was or move his arms or legs, talk or swallow.
Eight weeks later, he was sent to Letterman Hospital in San Francisco, where doctors replaced the damaged part of his skull with a plastic plate.
Eventually, he learned to walk again and was told several months later he would receive the Medal of Honor.
At 83 years old, Hernandez is the last living Hispanic Medal of Honor recipient from the Korean War.
Hernandez has traveled all over the United States as an honored guest of numerous military and Medal of Honor Society events and has been the guest of every president to hold office since he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1952. He receives many invitations and can pick which events he desires to attend.
The Medal of Honor Society sponsors members by accommodating traveling expenses and lodging for sanctioned events. However, as the conference was not sanctioned by the society, Dennis Hernandez Sr. reached out to numerous veterans groups to arrange for transportation from Fayetteville, N.C., and lodging for his uncle.
Doug Miller, representing Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6298 in Pleasanton, arranged for first-class airline tickets in partnership with Wounded Warriors.
Albert Moreno, of Tracy, spearheaded the drive to have Tracy VFW Post 1537 pay Hernandez’s hotel fees for his stay in the city.
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